Why Do Women Die Crossing the Borders?

Monash researchers Professor Sharon Pickering and Brandy Cochrane have studied the impact of  increased border control on the ways women die irregularly crossing borders.

In a large quantitative study they used three data sets, all based on figures from non-governmental organizations, to examine death at or near the borders in the European Union, the United States, and Australia.

Other studies have shown that  increased fortification of borders by  governments to keep irregular migrants out often increases risks of deaths as people  clandestinely cross borders. However few studies have asked why women and children are increasingly identified among the dead. Where and how do women die crossing borders and what does it mean for increased border protection?

What does the evidence say?

Despite increased public concern about border related deaths we know relatively little  in regards to basic demographics, especially sex. Drawing on available data, the  authors find women are more likely to die crossing borders at the harsh physical frontiers of  nation-states rather than at increasingly policed ‘internal border’ sites (for example immigration detention, during apprehension or deportation). That is, in those  physical spaces which cover the territorial border. In the  case of Australia and the European Union, these deaths at the frontier are likely to happen at  sea, while on the US-Mexico border this is likely to happen in the frontier of the desert.

There are many reasons women are more likely to die in the environmentally hazardous sections of border crossings. In the case of drownings between Indonesia and Australia and on the Mediterranean reasons include lower rates of swimming ability, attempts to save children in their care, the ways they are dressed, their compromised location on vessels and failure to access life vests. Across the deserts between the US and Mexico it is often linked to their survival disadvantage during periods of extreme heat.

The authors analysed data which suggests women from countries that are likely rejected for  lawful entry as part of pre-departure visa regimes are more likely to die. The authors argue for  more robust reporting mechanisms about border deaths, as well as future concerted efforts to better understand  vulnerable groups undertaking to cross borders.

The authors note that increasingly women are irregularly crossing borders. With increases in regional and civil conflict and natural disasters coupled with changing social mores, women are less likely to remain in refugee camps and ‘home’ waiting for male family members to send for them. Coupling this with increasingly hazardous environmental border crossings border deaths are likely to increase.

What does it mean?

When increasing numbers of women and children irregularly cross borders it is reasonable to expect that they will constitute a larger proportion of those who die. This article gives insight and attempts to enumerate border deaths of irregular female  migrants at the border frontiers of the European Union, Australian, and the United States. It is one of the first articles to exam this issue with quantitative data and with a comparative base  which allows for not only different type of data to be presented in this realm, but a broad range of irregular migrants deaths to be examined. 

Read the full article:

Pickering, S. and Cochrane, B. (2012) ‘Irregular border crossing, deaths and gender:  Where, how and when women die crossing border’, Theoretical Criminology, 17 (1): 27-48.

Sharon Pickering

Border Crossing Observatory

Brandy Cochrane


About brandyc

PhD Candidate, Momash University Communication & Media Strategist, Border Crossing Observatory: www.borderobservatory.org Research Assistant Post-Graduate Representative, Sustainable Transport Committee Blog: http://profiles.arts.monash.edu.au/brandy-cochrane/ Twitter: @brandy_cochrane